OCTOBER 30, 2007 – Singer/actor ROBERT GOULET (b. November 26, 1933 in Lawrence, Massachusetts as Robert Gérard Goulet) died at age 73 while awaiting a lung transplant for relief from a rare form of pulmonary fibrosis. A Grammy Award and Tony Award winner, his career spanned almost six decades. As the Broadway community mourned the loss of Robert Goulet, the theater marquees in New York and in cities across North America were dimmed in his memory on October 31, 2007. On November 9, 2007 the day of his funeral, Las Vegas honored the late singer, actor and entertainer in an unprecedented tribute by closing the Las Vegas Strip for his funeral procession. As he took his last ride and his final bow every Las Vegas hotel-casino featured his name on their marquees saying goodbye to a man who became a legend in his own lifetime.
Goulet was born and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts on Greenwood Street in the Tower Hill section, the only son of Jeanette (née Gauthier) and Joseph Georges André Goulet, a laborer. His parents were both of French Canadian ancestry. He was a descendant of French-Canadian pioneers Zacharie Cloutier and Jacques Goulet.
He began singing when he was five years old at family gatherings, though early on he developed a long-lasting fear of performing publicly, which he eventually overcame. Shortly after his father’s death, 13-year-old Goulet moved with his mother and sister Claire to Girouxville, Alberta, Canada and he spent his formative years in that country.
After living in Girouxville for several years, they moved to the provincial capital of Edmonton to take advantage of the performance opportunities offered in the city. There, he attended the voice schools founded by Herbert G. Turner and Jean Létourneau, and later became a radio announcer for radio station CKUA. Upon graduating from Victoria Composite high school, Goulet received a scholarship to The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, where he studied voice with oratorio baritones George Lambert and Ernesto Vinci.
In 1952, he competed in CBC Television’s “Pick The Stars,” ultimately making the semifinals. This led to other network appearances on shows like “Singing Stars of Tomorrow,” “Opportunity Knocks,” “Juliette,” and the Canadian version of “Howdy Doody” in which he starred opposite William Shatner.
Goulet’s first US bookings were in summer stock theatre with the Kenley Players. He appeared in eight productions, including “Pajama Game” (1959), “Bells Are Ringing” (1959), “Dream Girl” (1959), “South Pacific” (1960), “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1960) and “Carousel” (1960). John Kenley came to his dressing room after the opening of “Pajama Game” and gave him a raise, saying it was “because he knew he could never afford to again,” Goulet said in 2006. “He was right.”
In 1959, Goulet was introduced to librettist Alan Jay Lerner and composer Frederick Loewe, who were having difficulty casting the role of Lancelot in their stage production “Camelot.” Lerner and Loewe, impressed by Goulet’s talent, signed the virtual newcomer to play the part, opposite Richard Burton (King Arthur) and Julie Andrews (Queen Guenevere). “Camelot” opened in Toronto in October 1960. It then played a four-week engagement in Boston, and finally opened on Broadway two months later. Goulet received favorable reviews, most notably for his show-stopping romantic ballad, “If Ever I Would Leave You” which would become his signature song.
After the run of “Camelot,” Goulet appeared on “The Danny Thomas Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show” which made him a household name among American audiences (Sullivan invited “The American Baritone from Canada” to appear seventeen times on his weekly variety show.) On December 7, 1962, Goulet made an appearance on “The Jack Paar Show” with Judy Garland to promote their animated film “Gay Purr-ee.” He also would win a Grammy Award as Best New Artist in 1962.
On May 25, 1965, Goulet mangled the lyrics to the US National Anthem at the opening of the second Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston heavyweight championship fight in Lewiston, Maine. Goulet had never sung the anthem in public before, and replaced the lyric *”dawn’s early light”* with *”dawn’s early night”.* The gaffe was reported in newspapers nationwide the next morning, and Goulet was criticized in opinion columns for a lack of knowledge of the lyrics. The anthem lasted longer than the fight, which was over early in the first round. Goulet also had his biggest pop hit in this year, when his single “My Love, Forgive Me” reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 1966, Goulet starred in the television series “Blue Light” in which he played a journalist working undercover in Nazi Germany as a spy on behalf of the Allies. The series ran for 17 episodes between January 12, 1966 and May 18, 1966. In December 1966, a theatrical film starring Goulet, “I Deal in Danger,” was released, made up of the first four episodes of “Blue Light” edited together.
In 1968, Goulet was back on Broadway in the Kander and Ebb musical “The Happy Time.” He won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his role. John Serry Sr. collaborated as the orchestral accordionist.
Goulet began a recording career with Columbia Records in 1962, which resulted in more than 60 best-selling albums. He also toured in several musicals, including “Camelot” as Sir Lancelot, “Man of La Mancha,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” where he portrayed Billy Bigelow, a role he also played in 1967 in a made-for-television adaptation of the musical. This version aired only a year after the first television telecast of the 1956 film version. He also starred in a 1966 television version of “Brigadoon” which won several Emmy Awards, and “Kiss Me Kate” in 1968, opposite his then-wife Carol Lawrence. All three were produced by Goulet’s company Rogo Productions and aired on ABC, but none have been rebroadcast since the 1960s or released on video. All three were recorded on videotape rather than film.
Goulet guest starred on “The Lucy Show” in 1967 as himself and two additional characters who entered a Robert Goulet look-alike contest. In 1972, he played a lead villain in the season finale of television original “Mission: Impossible.” Goulet was featured in a two-part episode of the sitcom “Alice” during the 1981 season, again playing himself. The plot involved Mel (Vic Tayback) and the girls winning a free trip to Las Vegas, and while there, losing his diner in a gambling spree. Alice (Linda Lavin) plans to impersonate Goulet in an effort to persuade the casino owner to return the diner to Mel. The real Goulet appears and sings a duet with the (much shorter) fake Robert Goulet portrayed by Alice.
Goulet’s first film performance was released in 1962: the UPA (United Productions of America) animated musical feature “Gay Purr-ee,” in which he provided the voice of the male lead character “Jaune Tom” opposite the female lead character “Mewsette” voiced by Judy Garland. His first non-singing role was in “Honeymoon Hotel” (1964), but it was not until a cameo appearance as a singer in Louis Malle’s film, “Atlantic City” (1980) that Goulet was given critical acclaim. He recorded the song “Atlantic City (My Old Friend)” for Applause Records in 1981. In 1978, he sang “You Light Up My Life” at the Miss Universe Pageant to the five finalists.
In 1988, Tim Burton cast him as a houseguest blown through the roof by Beetlejuice and also played himself in Bill Murray’s “Scrooged” (both 1988). He performed the Canadian national anthem to open “WrestleMania VI” at SkyDome in Toronto in 1990. Goulet also made several appearances on the ABC sitcom “Mr. Belvedere” during its five-year run.
In 1991, Goulet starred, with John Putch and Hillary Bailey Smith, in the unsold television series pilot “Acting Sheriff.” That same year, he appeared as Quentin Hapsburg, opposite Leslie Nielsen, in the comedy film “The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear.” This followed a cameo in the 1982 TV series “Police Squad!” In the episode “The Butler Did It (A Bird in the Hand),” as “Special Guest Star,” he died by firing squad during the opening credits. The television series spawned “The Naked Gun” film series.
In 1992, Goulet made an uncredited appearance as the piano player who suffers agonizing injuries in the “Weird Al” Yankovic video for “You Don’t Love Me Anymore.” That same year, he guest-starred as country music singer Eddie Larren in an episode of the TV series “In the Heat of the Night” titled “When the Music Stopped.”
He starred as King Arthur in “Camelot” in a 1992 National Tour and returned to Broadway in 1993 with the same production. In 1993, he played himself in The Simpsons episode “$pringfield”. In that episode, Bart Simpson booked him into his own casino (actually Bart’s treehouse), where he sang “Jingle Bells (Batman Smells).” He survived prostate cancer that was diagnosed in the same year, and became a spokesman for the American Cancer Society.
In 1996, Goulet appeared in Ellen DeGeneres’ first starring movie “Mr. Wrong” as an insecure TV host; and he returned to Broadway in “Moon Over Buffalo” co-starring Lynn Redgrave. He provided the singing voice of Wheezy the penguin in the big band-style finale of the 1999 Pixar film “Toy Story 2” singing a new version of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
His commercial work included a 30-second spot for the 1998 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, showing him in different costumes (toll collector, construction worker, meter maid, etc.), all while singing “It’s Impossible” and an Emerald Nuts television advertising campaign in 2006, which debuted during Super Bowl XL and continued until his death.
In 2000, he played himself on two episodes of the Robert Smigel series “TV Funhouse.” As a sort-of mentor to the show’s animal puppet troupe, he was the only character who had the respect of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. Goulet also appeared in the Disney animated series “Recess” as the singing voice for Mikey Blumberg, and in the film “Recess: School’s Out.”
He sang “God Bless America” on Friday, August 8, 2003, when she was sworn in as a citizen of the United States in Las Vegas. He played Don Quixote in the 1997–98 U.S. national tour of “Man of La Mancha” and recorded the theme song for the talk show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” in 2003.
In 2005, he appeared on the Broadway stage for the last time as a mid-run replacement in “La Cage aux Folles” and found critical success once again. Clive Barnes of The New York Post wrote of his performance: *“Goulet’s still radiant grin is in better shape than his joints, giving his movements rather less grace than before. But when he sings, or even speaks, the years fall away. His gorgeous voice seems untouched by time, and his dapper presence fills the stage… With Robert Goulet’s new, expansively embracing Georges, Beach seems revitalized, appearing to find a passion and pathos in the role previously eluding him.”*
In 2006, he appeared in an episode (“Sold’y Locks”) of “The King of Queens” as himself, and that same year received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame. His last public performance was on the PBS televised special, My Music: 50’s Pop Parade, broadcast on August 1, 2007, in which he sang “Sunrise, Sunset” and “If Ever I Would Leave You.”
Goulet and his first wife Louise Longmore had one daughter, Nicolette (d. April 17, 2008), who gave birth to his two grandchildren, Solange-Louise and Jordan Gerard. He had two sons, Christopher (b. 1964) and Michael (b. 1966), by his second wife, actress and singer Carol Lawrence.
In 1982, he married artist and writer Vera Novak in Las Vegas, Nevada. Novak, who was born in Bitola, Macedonia, was also his business partner and manager.